Victorian govt seeks tougher rules for national face recognition system

Concern over rules governing private-sector access to national facial recognition services

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The Victorian government has indicated it is uneasy with the proposed governance arrangements for the national facial recognition service.

The federal government in February unveiled proposed legislation to create a national facial recognition service. The basis for the service is the October 2017 Intergovernmental Agreement on Identity Matching Services (IMS) signed by the federal, state and territory governments.

The Identity-matching Services Bill 2018 and the Australian Passports Amendment (Identity-Matching Services) Bill 2018 are based on the IMS agreement. The intention is to create a Commonwealth-run federated facial recognition system.

In a submission to the federal inquiry into the bills, the Victorian government said it was concerned about the lack of provisions “to support timely reporting, including misuse of data or access breaches by users of the IMS itself”.

“Given that the IMS may be used for surveillance purposes to support law enforcement, we recommend that appropriate security checks and balances be enshrined in the legislation to provide appropriate transparency to give users and the public confidence in the operation of the IMS.”

The Victorian government suggested that an independent regulatory body could be appointed to oversee the system, in a similar manner to the UK’s Office of the Biometrics Commissioner, Investigatory Powers Commissioner and Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

The government has rejected calls for a warrant-based system for accessing the proposed services.

Private sector access

The IMS bill would allow potential private-sector access to the system. The government has said that private sector entities, such as banks, would only be allowed to access the Facial Verification Service (FVS), which is just one of the proposed biometrics-based services. Commercial organisations wouldn’t be able to get access to the more powerful Facial Identification Service, the government said.

However, the Victorian government argues that the main bill does not explicitly bar non-government organisations from accessing services outside of the FVS (the IMS bill does state that the conditions of access to a particular service for a local government or non-government organisation includes that “the purpose of the service is to verify the individual’s identity”).

The submission states that the bill goes beyond what was agreed to by state and territory governments. If passed it would allow the minister to prescribe new types of identification information and new identity-matching services, for example. 

The Victorian government doesn’t currently intend to provide access to data other than driver’s licence records for the system, but the IMS bill’s definition of “identification information” could cover additional ID types, such as marine and junior firearms licence information that can be issued to people aged 12 and older, the submission notes.

The full submission (PDF) is available online.

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